Working for a better future in nature

Alabama Living Magazine

Rashidah Farid grew up the youngest of seven siblings in the small community of Bethlehem near Abbeville, and enjoyed a childhood that was focused almost entirely on nature and the outdoors. The family had a garden, chickens and goats, and her earliest memories are falling asleep outside under a shady oak tree. By the time she was a pre-teen, she knew she’d rather talk to the trees and animals than people, she says with a laugh.

Her parents were college-educated professionals and instilled in their children a desire for education, so she started out studying animal science at Tuskegee University. But she missed nature and began a concentration on wildlife and natural resources. With internships and work after graduation, she was exposed to conservation, sustainability, ecology and GIS mapping, among other skills.

She earned a master’s degree at Alabama A&M University in plant and soil science, where she learned about biostatistics. That interest would play into her doctoral study at the University of Florida of population ecology in wildlife populations – how populations change over time.

Now, those widely varying interests are evident in her job as assistant professor of wildlife ecology and coordinator of the Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries program at her alma mater, Tuskegee. But she has other educational interests that draw on all of her previous work and studies. – Allison Law

How do you balance all your interests? Do they all work together in your work now?

They do, actually. … I have a lot of grad students, and I think all those experiences I’ve had allow me flexibility and that foundation to allow my grad students to pursue their interests. … I use my network, which is diverse, to help my students move along. That’s the reason I’m at Tuskegee – I have a passion for mentoring and helping students move up in their career and find their own path. It’s tough though, having so many things going at the same time, with a very young family. Where we talk about balance, that’s where I struggle the most!

You do a lot of work with private landowners. Talk about that.

We have all kinds of programs. One of our more active programs is feral hog removal. I’m so tired of feral hogs! Literally last Saturday, I was up at 5 a.m. to meet my graduate students to kill some hogs. … A little more on the sustainable ag (side), there are a lot of landowners trying to incorporate intercropping techniques – using native wildflowers to attract the good insects to kill the nuisance ones. So we do a lot of that. On the forestry side, we help the landowners do a general evaluation (of their forest land).  Some landowners are interested in, how do I build an inexpensive low-water crossing? To improve the water quality but not be very expensive. Or how do I do small prescribed burning? Some are interested in agroforestry – can I graze my cattle or goats in the forest while waiting for the timber to mature? Some are just interested in, how do I lease my land?

I believe you also have a great interest in drawing more minority students, as well as girls, into your particular fields.

I’m very passionate. I tell people all the time, my mission is really to provide more diversity in natural resource careers and fields. I want to send diverse students into these spaces. You think about, how are we going to be able manage natural resources in the future? You must have diverse minds and cultures and thought patterns to handle the challenges of the future, particularly related to climate change. So yes, I have quite a bit of work, trying to recruit minority students, but all underrepresented students in natural resources, which includes women.  

In the summer, I run a forestry and natural resource camp for high school kids in Tuskegee. It’s a two-week, residential all-outdoor camp, fishing, hiking, camping, complete immersion in natural resources. We specifically try to make sure we have a diverse group, including Hispanic kids, women, anyone who’s considered to be underrepresented in the fields.

Are you hopeful for the future of our environment and the managing of our natural resources?

Absolutely. I think one of the most amazing things about working with young people is you have no choice but to be optimistic. You can see their brilliance, you can see their genius, you can see their innovation, and how their minds are different and growing and coming up with new ways of solutions to handle problems that my generation would never come up with. That’s a gift that working with young people gives you – a constant optimism about the future, and how even though our environment is changing, we will be able to meet those challenges in the future.


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